Charity vs Love

Roman Charity – 1612 – Peter Paul Rubens

Two Sundays ago the Epistle was Corinthians 13:1-13.  From Douay Rheims:

13 If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And if I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Charity is patient, is kind: charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely; is not puffed up;

Is not ambitious, seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinketh no evil;

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth;

Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Charity never falleth away: whether prophecies shall be made void, or tongues shall cease, or knowledge shall be destroyed.

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child.

12 We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known.

13 And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.

I was surprised reading this as I had never seen the word charity used here.  I’ve always read love.  According to Bible Hub both charity and love in this verse is agape.  This is what I was hoping was the case when I was trying to figure this out because it makes a lot of sense.  “To will the good of another as other” fits both of these words very well.

What I find sad and frustrating is our misuse of these words today.  Charity very often means to give money to an organization that purports to help others and love means that wonderful feeling we have toward others.  While both of these can be very nice things, when compared to what God asks of us, they are incredibly shallow.  I do wonder, have we let these words lose so much of their meaning because it is easier for us?

I am far more familiar with 3-13 of this passage as, at least in my readings, it is far more prevalent.  But, the first part, 1-3, seems more relevant to me now.  Our actions mean little without agape.

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6 thoughts on “Charity vs Love

  1. So true. And charity, properly used, means so much more than any other concept.

    The corollary to the need of charity is that, without charity, sinful desires and reasons always rush in to fill the void. Often it is worse to do an action without charity than to do it with charity, as then many souls feel like they are owed something from God or from man. The oonly exception is to do something without charity, whiille praying for God to fill you with the desire for true charity. While imperfect, such acts are meritorious and lead to the growth in charity desired.

    The imperfect man makes an imperfect action with imperfect intent and is put on the path towards perfection through Christ. Not a bad deal.

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  2. And charity, properly used, means so much more than any other concept.

    I was thinking along these lines as well. The word charity is almost easier to grasp in this passage. Reading love, while still accurate, almost seems more difficult because it is so difficult to get past our current meaning of the word. It’s hard to keep in mind that you don’t have to feel the emotion to love someone. Charity, in this instance, makes more sense to me. Keeping feelings out of it is something a lot of us struggle with, I think.

    Often it is worse to do an action without charity than to do it with charity, as then many souls feel like they are owed something from God or from man.

    Excellent point. Pride is so confounding and in this sense, it is actually more straightforward.

    The oonly exception is to do something without charity, whiille praying for God to fill you with the desire for true charity.

    I would argue that when done this way, it is an act still filled with charity. I’m having difficulty in wording this, but one could almost argue that this person would have something more (more of what is what I’m struggling with) because of the very struggle he is going through.

    The imperfect man makes an imperfect action with imperfect intent and is put on the path towards perfection through Christ. Not a bad deal.

    No, not a bad deal at all. I am thankful (and still struggling with) that this is enough. We need to continue to grow, but we will never be perfect and this is enough. Honestly, I think this is why I’ve been so drawn to St. Thérése lately.

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  3. When done that way it is an act with charity, but not filled completely with it and imperfect in essence. Enough is there for God to work with as you struggle

    Its similar to an imperfect fear of God – acting correctly more out of avoiding hell than of His displeasure and wanting to serve out of love. It may be imperfect, but if the desire to improve is there with prayer the action is meritorious and will lead to improvement

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  4. Enough is there for God to work with as you struggle

    This is something I always wonder on. Not just wonder in the sense of trying to figure it out, but am in awe of. Because you think you’re there. You think you have it all figured out and that you are approaching something close to perfection and then BLAM! Something smacks you down to show you that were not nearly as close as you thought and you get to pick yourself up and grow some more.

    It was what Hearthie just recently called falling and getting some pride scraped off (I love this and it has just stuck with me). It took me a long time to be at least somewhat grateful for those falls (sometimes the gratitude is difficult), but to see that God sometimes makes us fall so we can get scraped up and grow further is an amazing thing to me and it can be so very hard to see.

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  5. It’s almost a cliche to remark that Greek has many words for love, each with its own special connotation:

    Storge — Affection
    Philia — Friendship
    Eros — Longing
    Agape — Unconditional Giving

    Try C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves. It is eminently readable, a very practical exegesis of perhaps the most confusing word of our time. A theological page-turner. It’s right up your alley.

    Matt

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  6. First off, sorry for commenting on an old post – I had some time today and started going through archives.

    I just wanted to add that I think I like the word charity here better than love, actually. As you say, both are appropriate, but likewise, our modern conceptions of each cloud out the truth. What’s more, although we are called to love all people, I think we mostly just apply this passage with the word “love” to our nearest and dearest – the people we love most of all. It’s harder to think of this for others, especially strangers. But it’s very easy to think we ought to be charitable to others that we don’t “love.” And then, in recalling what charity is, we will act in a far more loving manner (than we would have with no thought to this passage at all).

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